Posts Tagged ‘2016 election’

Congress – FBI Sandoff: Trey Gowdy Says Congress Ready To Use “Full Arsenal of Constitutional Weapons” To Make FBI/DOJ Comply With Document Requests

June 18, 2018

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy said on ‘FOX News Sunday’ that House Republicans would hold top FBI and Justice Department officials in contempt of Congress if they fail to comply with subpoenas for sensitive documents championed by Intel Committee Chairman Devin Nunes.

Gowdy, Nunes, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte met on Friday with FBI and DOJ officials and “went item by item” through the outstanding subpoenas, Gowdy said.

“And Paul Ryan made it very clear: There’s going to be action on the floor of the House this week if the FBI and DOJ do not comply with our subpoena requests,” Gowdy said. House Republicans will use their “full arsenal of constitutional weapons to gain compliance.”

“Including contempt of Congress?” host Chris Wallace asked.

“That would be among them, yes sir,” Gowdy replied. “I don’t want the drama. I want the documents. There is no ambiguity, the Speaker of the House was really clear: you’re going to comply or there’s going to be floor action, and I think they got the message.”

He also said that the Justice Department’s inspector general report on the handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe helps President Trump.



On how the DOJ’s IG Report impacts @realDonaldTrump, @TGowdySC tells Chris: “It certainly helps him”
Watch the full interview at 2PM & 7PM ET @FoxNews

Asked by anchor Chris Wallace if the report exonerates Trump, Gowdy said, “it certainly helps him.”

Gowdy said the report proved that the same agents involved in the Clinton email investigation later went on to bias investigations into Trump.

Image result for John Brennan, james clapper, photos

“The same people, the same players that were involved in the Clinton probe later moved to the Russian probe. [Former CIA Director] John Brennan, who said he should be in the dustpan of history, [former FBI Director] Jim Comey, who said impeachment was too good of a remedy, [former Attorney General] Loretta Lynch, who wanted Hillary Clinton to win,” Gowdy said.



Full interview:

From Fox News Sunday:

Full Gowdy Interview



Open Up the Horowitz Secret Appendix — We Need to Know More About The I.G. Report on the FBI, Justice Department Findings

June 17, 2018

The public needs to know the history of the Russian info that had a big effect on Mr. Comey’s decisions.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Washington, D.C., July 26, 2017.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Washington, D.C., July 26, 2017.PHOTO: ZACH GIBSON/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report points to multiple irregularities in FBI chief James Comey’s actions in the 2016 election campaign, sees no evidence of political bias, but never really gets to the bottom of why Mr. Comey played the role he did.

Mr. Comey may have been worried that a Justice Department decision not to prosecute Mrs. Clinton would lack credibility, but it was in no sense his obligation to solve this problem. It simply was not the FBI chief’s job to relieve the Obama administration of the need to sell its decision to the electorate. This is why we have elections. It’s what political accountability is all about.

This is where Russia enters in. It is highly absurd at this point to keep this information secret, as Mr. Horowitz does in a classified appendix.

We already know from press reporting last year that the FBI was in possession of some kind of Russian intercept of a purported Democratic email that referred to an alleged conversation between Clinton aide Amanda Renteria and Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Mr. Horowitz says Mr. Comey did not find the information credible, didn’t investigate it, and didn’t tell his Justice Department superiors about it.

Except that as recently as a few weeks ago in a TV interview Mr. Comey indicated the information might not be false. Hmm.

One more thing we learn: The same classified source reported an allegation that Mr. Comey himself would seek to delay the Hillary investigation to aid Republicans.

So the information wasn’t credible, wasn’t investigated, and wasn’t shared with his superiors. We also don’t know which agency it came from or what discussions about its relevance took place. And yet it was hugely consequential. Mr. Comey himself tells us in his memoir that this classified information was pivotal to his decision to intervene. He feared it would leak and be used to discredit any DOJ decision to clear Mrs. Clinton.

Let’s pause here. Readers may have noticed a slight elision in my May 30 column on these matters. Mr. Comey’s second intervention, the one reopening the Hillary investigation shortly before the election, was one intervention that was not based on Russian intelligence.

It was also the one intervention decidedly not urged on Mr. Comey or favored by his Obama administration colleagues.

But consider: Mr. Comey by this point could not have failed to notice that all the FBI’s interventions were tending to benefit Mrs. Clinton. He could not have failed to notice that the intelligence basis for his actions (e.g., the Steele dossier) was disconcertingly thin.

He would have been lacking in shrewdness not to wonder if Obama spy masters were playing him for a sap. When the Anthony Weiner laptop surfaced, he would have had every reason to be eager to re-establish his bona fides with his GOP congressional overseers as somebody who in retrospect would be seen to have played an evenhanded role in the election.

Voilà. Yet this line of inquiry has not been so much neglected as dropped by the media. Virtually no press accounts this week even mention Mr. Horowitz’s classified appendix.

This is not exactly surprising. Democrats and Mr. Trump’s press critics ecstatically embraced the Russian interference theme but, unfortunately for them, the Russian interference theme also gives coherence and motive to the story they wish to ignore. This story concerns a consistent pattern of meddling in the race by our own intelligence agencies, using Russian intelligence as an excuse.

Indeed, a fact becomes clearer than ever, especially from the poorly self-serving babblings of former Obama Director of National Intelligence James Clapper : The now-defunct theory that Mr. Trump was Russia’s cat’s-paw had been widely adopted at the highest echelons of the Obama administration. It inspired many of the administration’s actions.

It almost goes without saying that Russia at first would have looked on Mr. Trump’s candidacy as the U.S. establishment did, as a joke, discrediting our democracy.

That Russian trolls were keen to promote the Trump phenomenon seemed obvious to this columnist from August 2015, as I’ve pointed out.

But this does not delegitimize Mr. Trump or the message his voters were trying to send by electing him. The Kremlin was no less blinkered and smug than our own establishment, a k a Mr. Comey, in its understanding of the Trump phenomenon and contempt for democratic outcomes.

Mr. Comey’s actions unfurl more as a comedy of arrogance rather than a conspiracy, though conspiratorial elements certainly came to be involved, especially in promoting leakage of the Steele dossier and various innuendo against the incoming Trump administration.

Not for the first time, we wonder how the Trump presidency might have been different, and how much opportunity the country might not now be squandering, if Democrats had decided to understand his election as an interesting, antipartisan, possibly providential anomaly rather than inventing conspiracy theories about it.

FBI agent Strzok reportedly texted ‘we’ll stop’ Trump from becoming president

June 14, 2018

A key FBI investigator in the probes into Russian election meddling and Hillary Clinton’s email server wrote to his bureau colleague and lover that “we’ll stop” Donald Trump from becoming president.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz on Thursday revealed the text message exchange between the agent, Peter Strzok, and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, in his report on the FBI’s and Justice Department’s probe into the bureau’s handling of the probe into Clinton’s emails, the Washington Post reported.

“[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” the lawyer, Lisa Page, wrote to Strzok.

“No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” Strzok responded in the August 2016 exchange.

Special counsel Robert Mueller removed the pair from the investigation once their emails were discovered, and Page later resigned from the bureau.

The report also criticized fired FBI Director James Comey for missteps in how he handled the probe, but said his actions were not motivated by political bias.

Trump was going to be briefed Thursday on the 500-page report, and the president was expected to use it to ramp up his attacks on Comey and the Justice Department.

But the report said there was no evidence that the election was “rigged” in Clinton’s favor, as the president has repeatedly charged, the paper reported.

Trump also attacked Mueller’s Russia probe on Twitter on Thursday.

“Now that I am back from Singapore, where we had a great result with respect to North Korea, the thought process must sadly go back to the Witch Hunt, always remembering that there was No Collusion and No Obstruction of the fabricated No Crime,” the president wrote.

“So, the Democrats make up a phony crime, Collusion with the Russians, pay a fortune to make the crime sound real, illegally leak (Comey) classified information so that a Special Councel [sic] will be appointed, and then Collude to make this pile of garbage take on life in Fake News!” he raged in another tweet.

Inspector general blasts Comey, says others at FBI showed ‘willingness to take official action’ to hurt Trump
The Washington Post

The Justice Department inspector general on Thursday castigated former FBI Director James B. Comey for his actions during the Hillary Clinton email investigation and found that other senior bureau officials showed a “willingness to take official action” to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president.

The 500-page report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, documents major missteps in one of the most politically charged cases in the FBI’s history. It also provides the most exhaustive account to date of bureau and Justice Department decision-making throughout the investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server, particularly in the months just before she would lose the presidency to Trump.

Though the inspector general condemned individual FBI officials, the report fell significantly short in supporting the assertion by the president and his allies that the investigation was rigged in favor of Clinton. The inspector general found “no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations.” The report acknowledged that certain emails appeared to contain classified information, but investigators determined the FBI’s conclusion that Clinton did not intend to expose classified information was legitimate.

The report is a blistering public rebuke of Comey, who has spent recent months on a book tour promoting his brand of ethical leadership. Inspector general Michael Horowitz accused Comey of insubordination, saying he flouted Justice Department practices when he decided only he had the authority and credibility to make key decisions and speak for the Justice Department.

Comey made a “serious error of judgment” in sending a letter to Congress on Oct. 28 announcing he was reopening the investigation of Clinton’s use of the server while secretary of state, the report found, and called it “extraordinary that Comey assessed that it was best” for him not to speak directly with either the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General about his decision beforehand.

Some senior bureau officials, the report found, exhibited a disturbing “willingness to take official action” to hurt Trump’s chances to become president.

Perhaps the most damaging new revelation in the report is a previously-unreported text message in which Peter Strzok, a key investigator on both the Clinton email case and the investigation of Russia and the Trump campaign, assured an FBI lawyer in August 2016 that “we’ll stop” Trump from making it to the White House.

“[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” the lawyer, Lisa Page, wrote to Strzok.

“No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it,” Strzok responded.

The report aimed to define once and for all what the FBI and Justice Department did right and what was wrong in the Clinton probe, but partisans are likely to seize on different findings to buttress their long-held views about that investigation.

For Trump, the report provides chapter upon chapter of fresh ammunition for his attacks on the FBI, which he has accused of political bias in investigating whether any of his campaign associates may have conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

To Clinton and her supporters, who have long argued that Comey’s decisions robbed her of an election victory, the report will likely be received as bitter vindication of her claims the FBI Director veered far beyond official policy in speaking publicly about her case, and reopening it in the final days before the election.

The inspector general concluded that Strzok’s text, along with others disparaging Trump, “is not only indicative of a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.”

The messages “potentially indicated or created the appearance that investigative decisions were impacted by bias or improper considerations,” the inspector general wrote.

Strzok told investigators he believed the message “was intended to reassure Page that Trump would not be elected, not to suggest that he would do something to impact the investigation,” according to the report. Both he and Page generally defended their messages as instances of sharing personal opinions that did not affect their work.

“I’m an American. We have the First Amendment. I’m entitled to an opinion,” Page told investigators.

Even that defense, however, undercuts Comey, who had long proclaimed that his investigators “don’t give a rip about politics.”

Horowitz has been working for nearly a year and a half to assess the bureau’s handling of the Clinton email investigation and its actions in the months leading up to the election, and all of Washington has eagerly been awaiting his findings. The president, who was briefed on the report before it was released publicly, has vigorously criticized Comey and the FBI.

Trump is all but certain to use the findings to renew those assaults, and potentially take aim at special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Strzok served as Mueller’s lead agent on the Russia probe until last July, when he was removed following the discovery of the text messages.

David Laufman, who oversaw the Clinton probe as chief of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, said, “The IG report demonstrates that the Justice Department lawyers who conducted the Clinton email investigation carried out their duties with the utmost rigor, professionalism, and integrity.”

Horowitz also concluded there was no evidence that political bias infected Comey’s thinking, even as he criticized individual steps Comey took. The report, for example, called Comey’s July 2016 public recommendation that Clinton not be charged an “extraordinary and insubordinate” move, because Comey did not even tell then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch what he was about to do. But it added, “we found no evidence that Comey’s statement was the result of bias or an effort to influence the election.”

Comey was not the only official to face criticism. The report chided Lynch for indecision after meeting with former president Bill Clinton on the tarmac of the Phoenix airport in the late stages of the campaign. She neither recused herself from the case to avoid the appearance of impropriety, nor did she assert herself more vigorously as Comey seized command.

The report similarly raised questions about how the FBI handled the ultimate recusal of the FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, from that and other cases because of political donations his wife had received from a group controlled by Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton ally.

Page and Strzok are not the only FBI officials assigned to the Clinton email probe who were found to have exchanged personal messages indicating either an animus against Trump or frustration with the fact that the FBI was investigating Clinton. The report identified five officials with some connection to the email probe who were expressing political views, faulting them for having brought “discredit to themselves, sowed doubt about the FBI’s handling of the midyear investigation, and impacted the reputation of the FBI.” The midyear investigation refers to the Clinton email probe.

“The messages cast a cloud over the FBI investigations to which these employees were assigned,” Horowitz alleged. “Ultimately the consequences of these actions impact not only the senders of these messages but also other who worked on these investigation and, indeed, the entire FBI.”

The inspector general wrote that it had referred the information regarding the five individuals who exchanged politically-charged messages “to the FBI for its handling and consideration of whether the messages … violates the FBI’s Offense Code of Conduct.”

The report took particular aim at FBI officials investigating Clinton’s email server for moving slowly after agents in the New York Field office discovered messages on the laptop of disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner that might be relevant to their case.

By no later than September 29, the inspector general alleged, the bureau had learned “virtually every fact” it would cite as justification late the next month to search Weiner’s laptop for messages of Clinton and top aide Huma Abedin.

The inspector general derided the bureau’s reasons for not moving more quickly — that agents were waiting for additional information from New York, that they couldn’t move without a warrant and that investigators were more focused on the Russia case — as “unpersuasive,” “illogical,” and inconsistent with their assertion that they would leave no stone unturned on Clinton.

The report also faulted the bureau for assigning essentially the same personnel to the Russia and Clinton teams, and singled out Strzok, suggesting his anti-Trump views might have played a role in his not acting more expeditiously on the new lead.

“Under these circumstances, we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on the Midyear-related investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias,” the report said.

The report determined that several FBI investigators — including Comey — also broke bureau protocol by using “personal email accounts for official government business.”

The inspector found five instances in which Comey either drafted official messages on or forwarded emails to his personal account, and at least two instances in which Strzok used his personal email for official business — including one “most troubling” instance on October 29, 2016, when he forwarded “an email about the proposed search warrant the midyear team was seeking on the Weiner laptop” from his FBI account to his personal email.

The discovery is ironic, given that the FBI was exploring Clinton’s own use of a personal email for work related business and whether classified information traversed her server.

Peter Strzok had larger role in Clinton, Russia probes than previously known

June 6, 2018

Peter Strzok, who was pulled off Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team last year, played a more central role than previously known in both the Russia and Hillary Clinton email probes, a lawmaker familiar with the matter told Fox News Tuesday.

The lawmaker’s assessment of Strzok’s role in both investigations was based on the most recent records and testimony, including a closed-door interview with FBI espionage chief Bill Priestap.

Fox News

Image result for peter strzok, photos

Priestap was interviewed Tuesday as part of an ongoing joint investigation by the House Judiciary and Oversight committees. Priestap was Strzok’s supervisor and oversaw both the Russia and Clinton investigations.

The lawmaker described Priestap as a very cooperative witness, but added that unanswered questions remained about Priestap’s overseas travel. One line of questioning Tuesday concerned a trip to London by Priestap in May 2016 and whether it was connected to the Russia case.

The trip was referenced by Strzok in a May 4, 2016 text message to FBI lawyer Lisa Page that said “Bill” would be “back from London next week.”

On Jan. 30 of that year, Strzok emailed Priestap and another FBI colleague expressing dismay about statements made by then-White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest claiming Clinton was not a target of the FBI probe into her private email server that she kept while secretary of state.

“Below not helpful,” Strzok wrote. “Certainly the WH is going to do whatever it wants, but there is a line they need to hold with regard to the appearance of non-interference.”

Strzok was reassigned to the FBI’s human resources division following revelations that he was romantically involved with Page and exchanged politically charged text messages. An FBI spokesperson told Fox News last month that Page had “resigned” to “pursue other opportunities.”

In addition to his work on the Mueller probe, Strzok was the lead agent on the Clinton email case known inside the bureau by the code name “Mid Year Exam” or MYE.

Lawmakers are scheduled to interview two other FBI officials later this month: Michael Steinbach, former head of the agency’s national security division; and Steinbach’s predecessor, John Giacalone. They are also expected to interview Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who is due to release a report on the FBI’s conduct in the Clinton investigation.

Late Tuesday, Trump claimed on Twitter that texts exist between Strzok and Page “referring to a counter-intelligence operation into the Trump Campaign dating way back to December, 2015.

“SPYGATE is in full force!” the president added.


Republicans press top FBI official on Strzok’s role in federal probes

The Hill

A top FBI official who oversees the bureau’s counterintelligence division faced questions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Tuesday about the role of FBI agent Peter Strzok in federal probes, The Hill has learned.

Lawmakers and congressional staff questioned Bill Priestap behind closed-doors for several hours as part of the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees’ joint probe into the FBI’s decision-making during the 2016 election.

Republicans have been eager to talk to Priestap about his involvement with the bureau’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election as well as its probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of State – two high-profile investigations where he served in key leadership roles.

Priestap was also in supervisory position over Strzok, whose text messages criticizing President Trump and other political figures during the 2016 presidential race have become a flashpoint among conservatives critiquing federal law enforcement officials’ actions.

“There was a number of times, I would say maybe four different times in that, where he would have the words, ‘Peter Strzok’ and ‘expert’ in the same sentence,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), an ally of Trump who serves on the Judiciary Committee, told reporters.

“It has kind of confirmed what I’ve suspected or a long time, that Strzok was a central figure in all of this – the Clinton investigation and the Russia investigation,” added Jordan, who is a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Allies of the president have alleged widespread misconduct within the FBI and the Justice Department during the presidential election, pointing to exchanges between Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page as further proof of bias against Trump.

“They are trying to get Priestep to basically explain how the organization and pieces work together, and what was Strzok’s role in all of that,” one source familiar with the hearing told The Hill.

Republicans are also eager to have Page and Strzok to testify before their committees.

“Peter Strzok is obviously a key witness that we need to talk to,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a close ally of Trump who serves on the Oversight Committee.

Strzok’s interactions with Page were the subject of criticism by Trump as recently as Tuesday night, when the president included them in a tweet referencing his broader unsubstantiated allegations of political bias against law enforcement during the election.

Priestap was also apparently involved in the controversial decision by then-FBI Director James Comey to call Clinton’s handling of her emails “extremely careless” and not the potentially criminal “grossly negligent” during the election.

According to records released earlier this year by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Priestap reviewed and provided edits to the statement Comey gave in July 2016 announcing that he would not be recommending charges against Clinton, then the Democratic presidential nominee.

Trump and other Republicans have pointed to the wording change and the revelation that the FBI chief began drafting the statement before he had interviewed Clinton herself as proof that the FBI was trying to protect Clinton from prosecution.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), however, said he felt that Priestap didn’t say anything that would indicate there was “political bias that motivated the Hillary Clinton email investigation.”

Priestap “completely” backed up everything that Comey said, according to a source familiar with his testimony.

Only three lawmakers — Jordan, Meadows and Krishnamoorthi — attended the hearing, which took place on the first day after a week-long recess.

Priestap’s interview comes after the joint House investigation stalled for months after being first announced.

Republicans are now ramping back up a probe that Democrats have described as a partisan attempt to protect Trump from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Priestap’s interview was the first of three that the House panels have scheduled for this month.

Lawmakers also plan to interview Michael Steinbach, the former head of the FBI’s national security division, as well as John Giacalone, who preceded Steinbach as the bureau’s top national security official.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is also expected to soon release his own report on FBI conduct during the Clinton investigation, raising some question about whether he will pre-empt the two other interviews.




The FBI’s Watergate

June 5, 2018

What did the bureau know, when did it know it, and how did it learn it?

FBI Director Christopher Wray arrives at an intelligence briefing in Washington, D.C., May 24.
FBI Director Christopher Wray arrives at an intelligence briefing in Washington, D.C., May 24. PHOTO: MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

“What did the president know, and when did he know it?” On June 28, 1973, during a hearing before the Senate Watergate Committee, the ranking member, Tennessee Republican Howard Baker, posed the central question of the investigation.

Forty-five summers after Baker uttered those historic words, the same question now hangs over the alleged collusion between Donald Trump and Russia in the 2016 election. But this time the question is directed at the investigators. It runs like this: What did the FBI know, when did it know it—and from whom did it get this information?

The answers are essential to a public accounting of what in fact happened during an election in which the FBI was investigating both the Republican and Democratic nominees for president or their campaigns. But unlike Watergate, which the FBI solved, the more we learn about these investigations, the more troubling the FBI’s behavior appears. Unfortunately, rather than make a clean breast of it all, new FBI Director Christopher Wray behaves as though the bureau doesn’t need to answer to the American people’s elected representatives in Congress.

For weeks Washington has awaited a report from the Justice Department’s inspector general on the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Some findings were released in April, concluding that former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe lied repeatedly to investigators. The inspector general recommended criminal charges. We won’t know the full depth of wrongdoing until the whole report is made public. But thanks to indiscreet texts between FBI lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, we know that folks in the bureau understood before the FBI interviewed Mrs. Clinton that she would not be charged, notwithstanding the testimony before Congress by former Director James Comey that he hadn’t made up his mind.

While the Russia investigation is a separate affair, the drama features some of the same FBI players. Officially this FBI investigation started on July 31, 2016. But here’s the problem: If the Russia investigation didn’t start until late July, how was it that the FBI’s “top secret” informant, Stefan Halper, had met the Trump campaign’s Carter Page earlier that month at a University of Cambridge symposium that Mr. Halper helped put on?

Mr. Wray wasn’t the director when the FBI started its Russia investigation. Mr. Comey was, and he has testified that news of the investigation was too sensitive to share with the Gang of Eight, which comprises the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate as well as the chairmen and ranking members of their respective intel committees. Which makes no sense, because the Gang of Eight’s purpose is to provide a way for the intelligence community to share sensitive information with Congress.

Unfortunately, Mr. Wray (along with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein ) has resisted clearing everything up by producing the documents still under congressional subpoena. In a Sunday interview with Fox News, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes suggested that if his committee was given the relevant documents, and they confirmed the bureau’s account, by Friday the committee would be able to say “look, the Department of Justice and the FBI did nothing wrong” and wrap up its investigation.

Alas, Mr. Wray (along with Mr. Rosenstein) has been playing a double game, pretending to cooperate with Congress but acting to keep documents away from the committees or produce them only in absurdly redacted form.

No one should be surprised. At a December hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. Wray suggested he couldn’t share classified information with Congress. The following month, he and Mr. Rosenstein tried to make an end run around the House Intel Committee’s demands for info in a meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan.

In March, Mr. Wray publicly promised a “transparent and responsive” FBI. To that end he would be “doubling” the number of staff assigned to responding to Congress. It’s the classic Beltway dodge, focusing on inputs over output.

Congress is still waiting for the bureau to make good on Mr. Wray’s promise. Meanwhile, sideshows dominate the headlines, from a silly debate about whether Mr. Halper was a spy or an informant to another over whether President Trump can pardon himself.

Eventually Congress will get answers. Press reports have suggested some rank-and-file FBI agents are itching to speak up about what happened under Mr. Comey. Sen. Chuck Grassley last week urged them to come forward, noting they don’t need to be subpoenaed to tell Congress what they know. More telling details could also come from the FBI officials involved, who are at some point likely to testify, under oath, before the House Intel Committee.

To salvage his own and his agency’s credibility, Mr. Wray needs to come clean about the most fundamental question still remaining about the FBI’s Russia investigation: how and why it began. If the bureau’s been telling the truth, it has nothing to fear.

Write to

Trump to start preparations for Mueller interview: Giuliani

May 18, 2018

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting

President Trump will begin preparing for an interview with the Special Counsel this summer. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

He’ll be ready, if not willing.

President Trump will time from his schedule to prepare for an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, according to his lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani, since reemerging in the limelight as part of Trump’s legal team, has waxed and waned on the chances of the commander-in-chief being part of the probe into alleged Russian election meddling.

But the former New York City mayor told POLITICO on Thursday that Trump’s summer schedule after his planned June 12 meeting with Kim Jong Un includes preparation for a sit-down with investigators from Mueller’s office that mirrors sessions before the presidential debates.

“He never liked to be sitting down for long stretches. We’d do an hour here, two hours there. We’d end up doing 15, 16 hours of preparation, particularly for the first debate. But we’d do it here and there. We have to do it over the course of two or three week,” he said.

Giuliani added that the legal team is looking at Trump’s long history of legal proceedings, including depositions, to analyze his tendencies.

Negotiations for the interview with Mueller took a hit when federal prosecutors in Manhattan, reportedly on a tip from the Russia investigation, raided the office of his personal lawyer Michael Cohen last month.

As the raid raised expectations of the probe continuing for much longer, Giuliani downplayed the possibility of an interview two weeks ago when he began making media appearances, but told POLITICO that the investigation had recently given more clarification about the potential scope.

Part of the Mueller probe reportedly centers on obstruction of justice accusations against the President for the firing of FBI Director James Comey after allegedly asking for loyalty.

Giuliani told CNN earlier this week that the reason for justifying an interview would be accusations of crimes by the President, though added that the Mueller team had acknowledged that it would not indict a sitting president.

From The New York Daily News

Is The Robert Mueller Investigation of Trump Collusion and the 2016 Election About Over?

May 6, 2018

It now appears that the only real case Robert Mueller has filed involving anything vaguely resembling a Russian collusion caper the indictment of thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian entities for a variety of alleged computer crimes

Robert Mueller announced, via his errand boy Rod Rosenstein, the indictment of thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian entities for a variety of alleged computer crimes during the 2016 election.



Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals for meddling in the 2016 election. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said they misrepresented themselves as Americans when contacting the Trump campaign. 

This was supposed to be the silver bullet that brought down Trump. But, when you took a close look at the indictment it was pretty obvious it was a public relations scam. Mueller had come under a lot of criticism for indicting people on the flimsiest of pretexts and was showing zero interest in actually pursuing his charter. As I said in my prescient post, If Mueller’s Indictment Isn’t A Nothingburger You Could Be Forgiven For Making That Mistake:


The project began in 2013 as a way of attempting to cause confusion in the U.S. presidential campaign. Mission accomplished. This indictment is a nothingburger. It tells us damned little we didn’t know from press accounts and there are no arrests on the horizon. Two of the three entities were already sanctioned so indicting them does nothing. There is absolutely nothing in here that even hints that the Russians involved in this had any help from anyone in the U.S. Maybe that indictment is coming but there is not a hint of it here.

This interference is exactly what Comey described around September 2016 when he said the object of the Russians was to create division. There is no evidence presented here that there was any greater goal than creating turmoil.

The interference seems aimed at bolstering what all of us thought were the LEAST LIKELY candidates in the primary: Trump, Sanders, Stein. The Russians attacked Cruz and Rubio and other GOP candidates as well as Clinton. After the election they helped organize anti-Trump rallies.

More importantly, there is no evidence here that there was any coherent strategy–or that they really knew what they were doing–beyond garden variety trolling.

I’m not authority on campaign finance law, but I’ve never heard of anyone, foreign or domestic, indicted for creating Facebook posts and tweets supportive of a candidate.

Buck Sexton


Mueller just indicted a bunch of Russians for setting up fake social media accounts and buying Facebook ads to say nasty things about Hillary online

How anyone can miss the massive prosecutorial overreach and blatant First Amendment implications of this is beyond me

Claims like this:

Ted Lieu


Dear @realDonaldTrump: The DOJ indicted 13 Russian nationals at the Internet Research Agency for violating federal criminal law to help your campaign and hurt other campaigns.

Still think this Russia thing is a hoax and a witch hunt? Because a lot of witches just got indicted. 

and this:

Philip Rucker


As we process 37-page federal indictment against 13 Russian nationals for interfering with U.S. election, remember that Trump views it as “a hoax” made up by Democrats. He has not acted to safeguard US democracy from future foreign intrusions.

are fatuous nonsense. If anything this indictment makes Trump’s case that his campaign did not cooperate with Russia.

I’d be perfectly happy packing these people off to Gitmo but I have say that I find it is pretty underwhelming. At no stage, thus far, is it an investigation that merited the appointment of a special counsel.

This scam seemed foolproof. The thirteen Russians were never going to be caught. Two of the three companies were already under US sanctions and not likely to worry a whole lot about a US indictment. Mueller got the press. No work was involved. All is good.
See also:
Judge rejects Mueller’s request for delay in Russian troll farm case
Image result for Robert Mueller, photos
Mueller’s Russia probe should wrap up and Rosenstein should accept congressional oversight
By Robert Charles

Most Americans are sick and tired of the leaky, slow-motion drama that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s so-called “Russia collusion” investigation has become.

Mueller has mounted an all-out effort, funded by your tax dollars, to find something – anything – that he can use to accuse President Trump of illegal conduct. The goal is clear: getting the president either convicted on criminal charges (if such a thing is even possible for a president) or impeached and removed from office.

This may be as close to a coup as we’ve ever come in the United States. Unhappy with the 2016 election results – attributable to Americans who Hillary Clinton called a “basket of deplorables” – President Trump’s opponents are now arrayed against him and want him out of the Oval Office.

The precedent being set by these post-election machinations is constitutionally damaging, and genuinely deplorable. Investigations of future presidents by their political opponents, as a means to force them from office, may become the norm.

Tying up any president – Democrat or Republican – in investigation after investigation after unwieldy, God-forsaken investigation would make it almost impossible for someone to effectively carry out the demanding job.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis hammered the point home Friday, addressing prosecutors working for Mueller at a hearing in Virginia on financial fraud charges against former Trump presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort.

“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud,” Ellis told the prosecutors. “You really care about getting information that Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment or whatever.”

Then the judge opened up the throttle. “We don’t want anyone in this country with unfettered power,” he said, and “it’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me the special prosecutor has power to do anything he or she wants,” since “the American people feel pretty strongly that no one has unfettered power.”

Right he is! Already, the special counsel’s anti-Trump crusade has imposed incalculable costs on our country – creating distrust and disunity, unnecessary stress, emotional and mental fatigue, millions of wasted taxpayer dollars and rolling ill-will.

Let’s remember one thing: The American people elected Donald Trump because we wanted him to tackle the nation’s serious problems – not be forced to devote endless time to an investigation that’s more debacle than disclosure, waste than haste, and increasingly arrogant.

Whatever the original intent, the Mueller investigation has begun to consume people, eroding bonds that make us one. That is why it has to wrap up.

Now, on top of everything else, we face a constitutional crisis, as the Department of Justice challenges long-established congressional oversight authority.

To what end? To preserve a clutch of second-tier convictions? For that, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is gambling America’s institutional trust and longstanding inter-branch relationships.

Members of Congress recently requested documents from Rosenstein, including the full “scope memo” explaining exactly what the Mueller probe was assigned to investigate. That’s a reasonable request, since there’s a great deal of confusion surrounding the Mueller investigation’s scope, duration, motives, authorities, personnel and selective focus.

Congress wants to understand – as do many Americans – whether Mueller’s wide-ranging investigation has gone beyond its scope, and when the investigation nightmare will end.

But Rosenstein refused to produce the scope memo without redactions, arguing that it pertains to an ongoing criminal investigation. This is a weak excuse, given the flood of recent leaks about the Mueller probe.

Congress’ constitutional oversight authority is supported by six express constitutional clauses and 18 separate laws – as well as Congress’s historic power to subpoena, grant immunity, take testimony, hold executive officers in contempt, and impeach.

So Rosenstein is on shaky ground in telling Congress that it has no right to see what it needs to exercise oversight.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who is chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said earlier this week: “Valid investigative requests from Congress have been slow-walked, stonewalled, and impeded at each step of the way under his (Rosenstein’s) watch.”  That should not happen.

In response to Rosenstein’s refusal to produce key documents, some House members have prepared articles of impeachment against him as a last resort. They want accountability. They are right to want it.

Maybe Rosenstein just wants to be left alone – or to give Mueller more time for rummaging around for something on the president. Perhaps Rosenstein is allied with forces that want to avoid further congressional scrutiny.

Either way, Rosenstein said Tuesday: “I can tell you there are people who have been making threats privately and publicly against me for quite some time and I think they should understand by now: The Department of Justice is not going to be extorted.”

Extorted? By members of Congress? Men and women elected by the American people to seek truth and assure accountability? What a curious, inapt and constitutionally disparaging reference by Rosenstein – a man trained in careful use of words like “extorted.”

Aiming to put himself in the right, Rosenstein added: “We’re going to do what is required by the rule of law and any kind of threats that anybody makes are not going to affect the way we do our job.”

Someone needs to slow this train down, or turn the burner back to simmer. No personal threats are contained in congressional insistence that executive branch officials comply with constitutional oversight. That is what the law requires. Refusing to comply doesn’t uphold the law – it ignores the law.

In fact, the Justice Department has often been forced to disgorge documents to Congress that compromise cases. Whether Rosenstein likes it or not, that is the law. He is not exempt from legitimate congressional oversight, which can at times impinge on individual cases.

Constitutional oversight is paramount. In a head-to-head battle over what is produced, Congress always wins. Absent executive privilege, the deputy attorney general cannot bar Congress from the documents it seeks.

I was a principal counsel in the Waco investigation by Congress in 1995, which examined a disastrous siege by federal law enforcement officers against members of an armed religious cult in Waco, Texas. Some 86 people died – including four federal agents.

The committee I served compelled the FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Immigration and Naturalization Service; and Justice Department to provide us with hundreds of thousands of documents that later resulted in criminal referrals.

Like today, tricks were played by political actors at the Justice Department. Our committee was stiff-armed, slow-rolled and flayed in the media. Documents were over-redacted, under-produced, and dumped on the eve of hearings, hiding critical things in a massive pile of nothing important.

But we got them. Such shameless legal games, in that day, distressed average Americans. They still do. These antics do a disservice to the pursuit of truth, disaffect regular people, and create unnecessary suspicion and distrust around institutions that work on trust.

Complying with lawful congressional oversight is central to upholding rule of law in a democracy. Obstructing Congress should not be a policy for any department, especially not the Justice Department.

No wonder that President Trump tweeted, in response to Rosenstein’s obstruction: “A Rigged System – They don’t want to turn over Documents to Congress. What are they afraid of? Why so much redacting? Why such unequal ‘justice?’ At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved!”

President Trump would be within his rights to “get involved.” Ironically, presidents have been criticized in the past for not providing information to Congress. But no modern president has been harangued by the opposition party for saying a department should provide Congress with material sought pursuant to constitutional oversight.

Here’s the bottom line: Rosenstein has a responsibility – indeed, a duty – to give Congress the full “scope memo” explaining what Mueller is investigating and other information Congress needs to carry out its oversight responsibilities. America has a right to know.

And Mueller and his team have a responsibility to wrap up their investigation, so President Trump and his administration can get on with the important work he was elected to do.

To borrow a phrase from failed Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont: “Enough is enough!”

At a certain point, words run out, and action is required.

Robert Charles is a former assistant secretary of state for President George W. Bush, former naval intelligence officer and litigator. He served in the Reagan and Bush 41 White Houses.

The Zuckerberg Collusion — Plus How Facebook Stole Your Psychological Profile

April 12, 2018

Was it Facebook’s job to tell voters Russian bots were working for Trump’s election?

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, waits to begin a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., April 11.
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, waits to begin a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., April 11. PHOTO: ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG

Somehow in our time all the problems of human existence have boiled down to one cause: Russian collusion.

What is the main reason Mark Zuckerberg was hauled in front of three committees of Congress? It is because the media connected a long series of dots to suggest the possibility that Russian bots exploited the personal Facebook data obtained by a firm named Cambridge Analytica to . . . put Donald Trump in the White House. Without the link to collusion—an infinitely elastic phrase with no legal meaning—Mr. Zuckerberg never would have had to leave Menlo Park.

The live Zuckerberg testimony was torture, forcing anyone interested to hear innumerable senators and House members share their thoughts on technology. Lowering the bar on Senate discourse below swamp level, Louisiana Republican John Kennedy said the Facebook user agreement “sucks.”

Despite the legislators’ thunderings about regulation, the likelihood of the House and Senate enacting rules for the web is more remote than Halley’s Comet, due back in 43 years. Congress has failed for years to bring royalty payments for creators of music into the digital age.

It’s sport now to mock Mark Zuckerberg, but taking an idea from your dorm room to a market cap of more than $400 billion proves he’s no dope. What Mark Zuckerberg thinks about what he did deserves attention.

Mr. Zuckerberg divided his prepared testimony between two subjects. The first, headlined “Cambridge Analytica,” was a proxy for the personal-privacy issue; the other was “Russian Election Interference,” a proxy for the collusion obsession.

The Facebook founder describes “Russian interference” as if it is so ubiquitous in his world that it has become an everyday term, like server farms. But Mr. Zuckerberg’s testimony offered insight into how the dailiness of Russian interference morphed into the firestorm of “Russian collusion.”

He said Facebook was aware of “traditional” Russian cyberthreats “for years,” including a group called APT28, which he noted our intelligence services had linked to the Russians.

This time frame revives a relevant question: Why didn’t the Obama administration alert the American people in 2015 or earlier to the threat of Russian political subversion? Protecting us from Russian bots wasn’t Mark Zuckerberg’s responsibility.

We’ll push that further. The “Russian collusion” narrative began in January 2017, coincident with the release of a report by Mr. Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, whose headline finding was, “Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

Buried beneath the subsequent stampede toward “collusion” was the report’s extensive description of U.S. intelligence’s longstanding, pre-Trump concerns about a Russian “network of quasi-government trolls.” This network was suspected of running cyber-based propaganda campaigns against a range of targets—European governments, the Olympics, the World Anti-Doping Agency, and “since early 2014,” multiple state and local electoral boards. But somehow all this suspected Russian interference wasn’t worth putting in front of American voters until after they elected Donald Trump.

Some 15 months later, the Russian-collusion grand opera has degraded into an FBI smash-and-grab operation against Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to find payoffs to porn stars. It’s little wonder nearly half the Senate showed up to discuss privacy for a day with the $70 billion man.

Privacy on the web matters, but the odds are overwhelming that before Congress gets to it, another technology—probably blockchain—will mitigate the problem. Of more pressing concern are Mr. Zuckerberg’s thoughts on what he keeps calling the values of the Facebook “community.” Meaning what?

A primary criticism of social-media platforms like Facebook is that they expose users to content that encourages “hate” or is “hurtful.”

Facebook’s answer to this perceived problem has been to hire some 15,000 people dedicated to “community operations and review,” with more monitors on the way.

During his pre-Congress apology tour, Mr. Zuckerberg elaborated on this subject to Vox:

“Over the long term, what I’d really like to get to is an independent appeal. So maybe folks at Facebook make the first decision based on the community standards that are outlined, and then people can get a second opinion.

“You can imagine some sort of structure, almost like a Supreme Court, that is made up of independent folks who don’t work for Facebook, who ultimately make the final judgment call on what should be acceptable speech in a community that reflects the social norms and values of people all around the world.”

Up to now, there has been no such thing in the United States as “acceptable speech” defined by the norms and values of people all around the world. Because of his status, Mr. Zuckerberg is a thought leader, and so this idea is not far-fetched.

The bedrock idea of free speech is under pressure in the U.S. now. But if I had to guess which will arrive first—federal regulation of individual privacy or a speech panel of “independent folks” defining what is acceptable—on current course, I think I know which one it will be.


As revelations continue to unfold in the latest Facebook scandal,  we now know that millions of its users have unwittingly participated in research revealing details about their friends, their shopping habits, and their psychological profile, otherwise known as “psychographics,” or profiling of personality.

According to one New York Times report (link is external), Facebook users opted in to complete a personality test using Qualtrics, software widely adopted by social science researchers to gather legitimate data in a convenient online manner. University researchers in the U.S. who use Qualtrics must undergo review by their institutions regarding the protection of study participants. Those review panels require that each Qualtrics survey begins with a statement of the rights of the participants, including confidentiality, anonymity (in most cases), the right to withdraw, risks and benefits, and a clear statement of what the participant can expect to have happen with the data. After completing the questionnaire, the researcher provides participants with a “debriefing” form that reveals the real purpose of the study along with contact information of the investigator.

It appears that these protections weren’t taken when Alaksandr Kogan, a University of Cambridge (England) psychologist who worked for Cambridge Analytica, partnered with Facebook to provide a means of profiling users (who had to opt-in) with a personality test assessing the Five Factor Model.  This is a test that is widely used in legitimate research on everything from narcissism to psychopathology and every other personality constellation in between. There are short and long versions; this article(link is external) will lead you to some of these free versions.

It is true that those who gave their most intimate personality data to Kogan had to agree to participate, and then click on the link that took them to Qualtrics. However, what they didn’t realize was that the answers they provided would then provide Cambridge Analytica with profiles that could influence their Facebook feed. Other data about users also got drawn into the profile, which in turn gave even more personal information.

As part of the expose now coming to light, one study, in particular, has not received a great deal of attention, but in some ways is even more ominous than the Cambridge Analytica story alone. In 2015, Kogan published a scientific article(link is external) with collaborators from well-respected academic institutions as well as his company, and Facebook researchers, in which the claim was made that people of higher social status have fewer international friends. The underlying theory was that people with greater wealth and power don’t need to affiliate with people who aren’t like them; i.e., people from other nations. The authors didn’t seem to think that using data from millions of Facebook data, without their awareness, would constitute an ethical violation. See what you think after reading the details of this paper.

You can begin by considering the source of the paper. Published in the journal “Personality and Individual Differences,” which sounds reasonably legitimate (not exactly a grocery store tabloid), the article’s authors are listed as including an “Aleksandr Spectre.” This was Kogan in disguise, using his married surname. It would be impossible to make the connection between him and the Cambridge Analytica psychologist unless you knew to read the study’s footnote to this effect. Second, the journal itself is “Open Access.” This means that you can read the article yourself without requiring an institutional subscription, such as the very expensive university online databases. Sounds great, until you realize that the business model for Open Access journals involves having authors pay substantial sums to see their work reach the scientific community and popular press. In the case of this particular journal, the publisher (Elsevier) lists the fees as approximately $2350 USD(link is external) per article. In return for this fee, you’re guaranteed review by academic readers, so you can’t just publish anything.

The articles that the Open Access journal publishes may very well be as high quality as those published in non-open journals, but there is this important distinction to consider. Those considered to have met the highest standards for Open Access journals are listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals. These are the journals that must exercise rigorous peer review and editorial control. Personality and Individual Differences is not listed in this directory.

Now let’s turn to the article itself and how the authors stepped over the line in their use of Facebook data. They note that the population of Facebook users is highly appropriate for research on this topic: “Several aspects of the Facebook platform allow us to overcome certain classic challenges in social sciences. First, Facebook’s user base is massive, spanning over 1.3 billion users; thus, in our second study, our findings provide insights based on data from every corner of the earth and most walks of life” (p. 225). Kogan and his collaborators clearly believe that overcoming the “challenges” of having to recruit participants who deliberately agree to be in a research study justifies their use of data obtained without permission.

There were two studies published in the Yearwood et al. article. In the first, participants agreed through the normal route of providing consent to complete an online survey. As the authors point out, “no deception was used” (p. 225). All participants had at least one Facebook friend. When they agreed to be in the study, they agreed to authorize Facebook to gather information from their profiles automatically which may or may not have been in the “fine print” of the consent form. This agreement, though, meant they would now provide information that could be used to find out their total number of friends and where their friends were currently located.  The total number of friends whose locations and contact information was obtained, totaling 287,739 Facebook users. In other words, over a quarter of a million people had their Facebook data accessed without their knowledge, and all through the pushing of a “yes” button by the actual study participants.

The results of this first, survey-based, study showed a small but significant relationship between people’s social status and the number of international friends. The findings, the authors claimed to support the “restricting social class hypothesis” that wealth narrows your friendships to those in your own country. With this as their starting point, the Yearwood et al. team moved on to the next study using all the Facebook data in the world with, of course, the help of Facebook. As the authors stated, “Facebook provided data on every friendship formed in 2011 in every country in the world at the national aggregate level. These datasets included a total of 57,457,192,520 friendships. From these data, we knew how many friendships were made within each country (domestic friendships) and also how many friendships were made between every country pair (international friendships)” (p. 226). Although these were aggregated data (i.e. no data from individuals), profile and contact data of individuals clearly had to be fed into the analyses in some form.

To be sure, the Facebook data used in this second study was nation-, not individual-based. At this national level of analysis, the authors concluded that people from “high status” countries had fewer international friends than people from “low status” countries, a determination based on Gross Domestic Product of the user’s home country. The effect, though significant, was relatively small, with people from low-status countries having 35% international friendships and those from high-status having 28% of their friends located in other countries.

With these numbers in mind, the authors conclude that people of higher status (or at least those living in high GDP countries), are more likely to have outgroup biases, greater anxiety about people from groups other than their own, and higher levels of prejudice. People with greater wealth, in other words, “tend to think and act in ways that reinforce their social class” (p. 228), despite their greater opportunities to travel and conduct work at an international level.

This paper was only one of the studies, published or not, that Cambridge Analytica performed on Facebook users without their explicit consent. It fails to conform to the ethical standards that psychologists must adopt, as well as the standards that academic journals require before they will publish a study. Additionally, funding for this study was provided by a U.K. research grant as well as by a grant from St. Petersburg State University, in addition to the personnel and resources made available from Facebook. In the U.S., funding by the National Institutes of Health or National Science Foundation will not be provided to a researcher without clear identification of the methods used to recruit participants.

Psychology research can provide you with information that can enhance your life and make it that much more fulfilling. The Facebook studies were an anomaly. The next time you read a study, or consent to be in one yourself, this Facebook teaches you that it may be worth reading the fine print before you push that “agree” button.


Yearwood, M. H., Cuddy, A., Lamba, N., Youyou, W., van der Lowe, I., Piff, P. K., & … Spectre, A. (2015). On wealth and the diversity of friendships: High social class people around the world have fewer international friends. Personality and Individual Differences, 87224-229. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2015.07.040

Russia suffering under new US sanctions

April 11, 2018

Black Monday was followed by an even blacker Tuesday. The Russian market crash, sparked by new US sanctions, looks unlikely to end soon. What does it mean for everyday citizens in the country?

Televised Putin speech in Sevastopol (picture-alliance /dpa/EPA/A. Pedko)

Sanctions? Our nuclear missiles are laughing themselves silly. In 2014, when the Western economic pressure over Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula began to mount, many Russians could be seen wearing T-shirts bearing such sarcastic slogans. Initially, sanctions were applied cautiously and were very limited in scope.

Russia adjusted to the “new economic reality,” a Moscow euphemism for its confrontation with the West. In 2017, the economy began to grow once again. It is questionable that the same will happenafter this latest round of sanctions.

Billions in losses

New punitive measures introduced by the United States on April 6, the first since the annexation of Crimea, have led to a massive crash on Russia’s stock and currency markets. Russian media reports claim that new US sanctions on seven oligarchs, 17 top officials and 12 companies led to tens of billions of dollars in losses on Russian markets within just a few hours on Monday.

Read morePutin, Kremlin were unprepared for a US-EU assault

The slide continued on Tuesday and there is no end in sight. Pressure exerted on Russian bonds and the Russian currency; the ruble, increased as well due to the threat of further US sanctions currently being discussed in response to the poisoning of former Russian-British double agent Sergei Skripal. A proposal currently making the rounds in the US Congress would expand sanctions to target Russian sovereign debt.

Should that happen, it would be “economic warfare,” warned Alexander Shoshin, chairman of the Russian business association RSPP.

But targeted individuals and their companies are not the only ones suffering from the latest US sanctions, other corporations and banks are feeling the heat as well. Stock losses, for instance, are hitting Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank. Meanwhile, the government has said the situation is under control and has promised financial assistance.

 Image result for Sberbank, photos

A business empire fighting for survival

The 50-year-old businessman Oleg Deripaska will need that assistance more than anybody. In Washington’s eyes, Deripaska is very closely connected to the Kremlin, which is why he was singled out with some of the toughest sanctions. His business empire Basic Element was a main target.

Basic Element is said to have more than 150,000 employees worldwide. The company website claims that 15 percent of Russia’s population is “directly or indirectly” linked to the firm. Among those connected to Basic Element are Rusal, the world’s largest aluminum producer, and the conglomerate Russian Machines, which has a number of subsidiaries in the automobile, aircraft and railway technology sectors.

Oleg Deripaska (picture-alliance/AP/A. Zemlianichenko)Deripaska was singled out by the US for some of the toughest sanctions

One rather symbolic detail: The automobile manufacturer GAZ from Nizhny Novgorod also belongs to Russian Machines. It is a traditional Russian company, and it was in front of GAZ’s workers that Vladimir Putin announced he would run for a fourth presidential term in December 2017. He was re-elected in March of this year.

It remains unclear whether jobs will be directly threatened at Deripaska’s companies as a result of US sanctions. Although the US is an important market for Russian aluminum, the lion’s share of Basic Element’s production is destined for the domestic market.

Read more: Vladimir Putin: How a spy rose to power and held on to it

The bigger problem would seem to be the company’s foreign debt. Because of sanctions rules, that debt can only be serviced by the state. Observers say the Deripaska empire could eventually fall under state control as a result.

Many losers, some winners

Although most Russians have felt the effects of Western sanctions, these have not been all that dramatic. The currency market suffered a similar crash in late 2014, yet the cause then was a drop in global oil prices — Russia’s most important export product and its largest source of foreign currency.

Currently, there is much discussion about the fact that a devaluation of the ruble will hit those Russians traveling abroad the hardest. Last year the number of Russians vacationing abroad declined.

Read moreWestern sanctions on Russia make lots of noise and little impact

Many Russians will likely feel the first consequences of a devaluation of the ruble as a result of sanctions when purchasing electronic goods. The business magazine Vedmosti reports that prices for products such as smartphones and laptops are expected to rise by 5 to 10 percent.

Still, there are those who are profiting from the current situation — above all the Russian tourism industry. For instance, Russians forgoing trips to Turkey due to the increased expense could save money by vacationing on the Crimean peninsula instead.


How Facebook’s growth banked on users opening doors to their data

April 10, 2018
“Facebook still collects reams of data about you from not just what you do on Facebook but from what you do in the real world,” tech expert Shira Ovide said.
By Ray Downs  |  April 10, 2018
 Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting
 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg listens to a question while testifying at a Joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committee hearing on Facebook, social media privacy, and the use and abuse of data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

April 10 (UPI) — Whenever you log into your Facebook account, you voluntarily share hoards of personal data with the company — which is collected, packaged and sold to other companies for profit.

Selling information about the personal habits of its 1 billion users has been the business practice of Facebook for several years, but it has come under scrutiny in recent weeks, leading to CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear before House and Senate committees this week.

‘Knowingly’ providing information

The data controversy stems from 2013, when Aleksandr Kogan, a scientist at Cambridge University, built a personality quiz app called “thisisyourdigitallife” that 270,000 people downloaded. In addition to answering questions about their personality, users voluntarily gave other personal information, like the city they live in and content they liked.

Those users also gave information about people on their friends list who had their privacy settings set to allow it, which ballooned the potential total number of people in Kogan’s data set to 87 million.

None of the data collection was illegal, or even against Facebook rules.

© GETTY/AFP / by Rob Lever | Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg held private meetings Monday with lawmakers ahead of his congressional testimony Tuesday and Wednesday

“Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent,” Facebook said in a March 16 statement. “People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”

In 2015, Kogan sold that data to Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm operating in Britain that later worked on Donald Trump‘s 2016 presidential campaign. When Cambridge Analytica joined the Trump campaign, it had data points on millions of Americans who likely never heard of the company or interacted with it in any way on Facebook because of the information Kogan’s app scooped up three years before

Kogan didn’t violate any of Facebook’s rules when he collected the data, but the company says he violated their agreement when he sold it to a third party.

The Cambridge University data scientist denies he did anything wrong and told CNN he only did what Facebook does.

“Using users’ data for profit is their business model,” Kogan said.

Nonetheless, after learning of the data sale, Facebook requested that Cambridge Analytica delete the data it bought from Kogan. Cambridge Analytica said it complied with the request.

But Christopher Wylie, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, told media organizations last month that the company didn’t delete the data and used it when it worked on Trump’s campaign.

Britain’s Channel 4 reported that it had seen a cache of Cambridge Analytica’s data dating from 2014. That data included information on the personalities of about 136,000 people in Colorado — with rankings on how agreeable, conscientious, neurotic and extroverted they are — which would then be used to target those people with ads designed to match their personality profile.

Whether or not Cambridge Analytica deleted the data is unclear.

What is known is that a private company obtained data about millions of users who didn’t know their data was being collected — a practice Facebook has allowed companies and political campaigns to do for years.

Helping campaigns use personal data

In 2012, the re-election campaign for President Barack Obama created an app that operated similarly to Kogan’s by taking information of all the friends of people who initially accessed it.

Teddy Goff, Obama’s digital campaign manager, called it “the most groundbreaking piece of technology developed for the campaign.”

Facebook stopped allowing apps to collect information from users’ friends lists in 2014, but Hillary Clinton‘s campaign created a new iOS app that allowed users to give information about their friends who were synched into their iPhone address book.

The Clinton campaign used that data to encourage the app’s users to ask friends to donate money or volunteer.

“If we need volunteers in Ohio and you’ve got a friend in Ohio, we’re telling you to do that first,” Goff, who also headed Clinton’s digital operations, told Politico one month before the 2016 election.

Facebook was well aware of how its platform was used for political purposes. In fact, it encouraged political organizations to use its platform to target voters and had a government division, which employs former political aidesto help groups target voters.

Brad Parscale, who led Trump’s digital operations in 2016, raised some eyebrows in September when he told CBS’ 60 Minutes that Republican employees of Facebook, and other social media companies like Twitter, were “embedded” with the campaign to help him maximize usage of targeting tools.

Facebook didn’t deny Parscale’s description of its involvement with Trump’s digital campaign.

“For candidates across the political spectrum, Facebook offers the same levels of support in key moments to help campaigns understand how best to use the platform,” the company said.

Facebook offered the Clinton campaign the same level of support, according to reports.

Top product: personal data

More than 1 billion people around the world use Facebook, including nearly 200 million Americans, who each give personal data whenever they use the platform. Facebook is the world’s largest social media company, as well as one of the largest collectors of personal data.

But Facebook makes money by selling that data to advertisers who want to target the people most likely to buy its product or vote for its candidate — and it’s a fast-growing business model.

Advertising accounts for nearly 100 percent of Facebook’s revenue. In 2008, that revenue totaled about $300 million. By the end of last year, Facebook’s revenue was nearly $13 billion.

Political ad revenue is a large part of the company’s growth strategy.

In 2015, some estimates had the company taking in $1 billion in political ad revenue during 2016. The company has not released total figures specifically for its political ad revenue that year.

For a company completely reliant on selling advertisements that target people through their personal data, Facebook is unlikely to stop collecting that data anytime soon. But it has said it will take extra security measures, largely based on placing limits on how app developers obtain and keep user data.

“We need to make sure that developers like Kogan who got access to a lot of information in the past can’t get access to as much information going forward,” according to a prepared statement from Zuckerberg in advance of his congressional testimony this week.

Zuckerberg said Facebook is removing user data from apps if the user hasn’t used the app in more than three months — limiting data apps can ask for to name, profile photo and email address, and requiring developers to sign a contract that imposes “strict requirements” to ask anyone for access to their posts or other private data.

But Facebook isn’t making any changes to how it collects data on users. Other than deleting your Facebook account and removing the app from your mobile devices, there’s no foolproof way to stop your data from being harvested and sold.

“What Facebook hasn’t done is really restrict or limit the amount of data that Facebook itself collects about people,” Bloomberg technology columnist Shira Ovide told NPR. “It is putting some locks on what outsiders can do, and that’s good. But Facebook still collects reams of data about you from not just what you do on Facebook but from what you do in the real world — from purchases that you make, for example, from other websites that you visit all over the Internet.”


Facebook scandal goes beyond Cambridge Analytica

© Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2018-04-10

With Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg poised to appear before Congress on Tuesday to be heard on the Cambridge Analytica scandal, examples of companies exploiting their access to social media users’ private data are rife.

Behind the scenes, Facebook has been busy blocking the pages of entities linked to the British based Cambridge Analytica (CA) and other firms that, like CA, have made exploiting personal data, collected in apparent violation of Facebook’s own rules, their stock-in-trade.

On Sunday, the social network suspended CubeYou’s account after the firm had harvested millions of users’ personal data through ostensibly innocuous personality quizzes. Last Friday, Facebook blocked Aggregate IQ’s page after the Canadian outfit was accused of links to Cambridge Analytica and of having worked for the Leave camp in the UK’s 2016 Brexit referendum by means of data gleaned from the social media giant.

In fact, this pair represents only a tiny fraction of the digital ecosystem that has built up around the exploiting of information Facebook users share online, as described in detail by Austria’s Cracked Labs Institute for Critical Digital Culture, in a June 2017 study. Alongside the case of Harris Media, another Big Data specialist with political intentions, they illustrate excesses in the commerce of personal data.

Aggregate IQ (AIQ), for its part, influenced the result of the Brexit referendum in June 2016. Or at least, that is what the Canadian firm, which specialised in the political exploitation of Facebook data, asserted on its website until March 22 of this year. Once news media began looking into AIQ’s ties to Cambridge Analytica, the published claim disappeared overnight.

The Canadian firm is suspected of having pocketed more than €4 million from assorted pro-Brexit groups for using Facebook data to identify voters whose decision was susceptible to influence. That work resembles the work Cambridge Analytica is suspected of having done on behalf of Donald Trump’s US presidential campaign.

It would be hardly surprising if AIQ is indeed merely a façade for Cambridge Analytica in Canada, as alleged. Christopher Wylie, the former CA employee who brought the firm’s activities to light, says he personally participated in AIQ’s creation. The Canadian firm has denied any contractual link with Cambridge Analytica. But Wylie told The Guardian: “Among internal CA staff AIQ was referred to as ‘our Canadian office’. They were treated as a department within the company.”

CubeYou, too, is no longer welcome on Facebook. And yet the firm does what dozens more do in gathering personal data on the social network and selling them to advertisers.

But US television network CNBC caught CubeYou red-handed using the same subterfuge as Cambridge Analytica to bolster its database illegally. The company had been using quizzes on Facebook – tests that were presented as having been developed in association with Cambridge University researchers – to amass precious insight into the profiles of tens of millions of Facebook users. The harvested knowledge was officially meant to serve academic research. But in fact, CubeYou sold the data on to so-called commercial partners.

The technique, according to CNBC, allowed the firm to establish a profile of 45 million Facebook users, including information on age, employment, education, interests and the brands they followed on social media, as well as what messages they “liked” and the comments they posted on the site.

Harris Media, for its part, is still present on Facebook and continues to extol the merits of its “Big Data” approach to political campaigning, an approach very similar to Cambridge Analytica’s. But for some NGOs, the American firm is hardly different from its British competitor.

Privacy International investigation in December 2017 accused Harris Media of influencing the Kenyan presidential election in favour of the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, by creating online video content discrediting his challenger, opposition leader Raila Odinga. “We thought it would lead us to Cambridge Analytica, because of the similarities. But it actually led us to Harris Media,” Lucy Purdon, Policy Officer for Privacy International, told FRANCE 24.

Harris Media, like Cambridge Analytica, is sitting on a gold mine of data culled from social networks regarding millions of users. The information allows them to create content – videos, websites, Facebook pages – very precisely adapted to targeted profiles. Beyond Kenya’s Kenyatta, Harris Media, which is closely associated with US hardline conservatives, pressed its know-how into service for the National Front in FranceGermany’s populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a long list of American conservatives, including Trump.

In 2014, Bloomberg called Vincent Harris, who founded the firm, “the man who invented the Republican internet”. Harris is keen on high-impact operations online. The Harris Media videos in Kenya suggested bloody racial violence could ensue should the opposition gain power. In Germany, the firm was responsible for campaign videos warning against the country’s supposedly exploding Islamisation. The videos also had French versions, intended to disparage Emmanuel Macron during his presidential run.

The main difference between Cambridge Analytica and Harris Media is that it is unknown how many internet users Harris Media kept records on and to what extent it compiled data on them. Why? For one, there hasn’t been a whistleblower like there was in the case of Cambridge Analytica. And, unlike the British firm, Harris Media is based in a jurisdiction that is less regulated on this issue. “US laws on data protection and privacy do not protect users as much as in Europe,” says Privacy International’s Purdon.

This article has been translated from the original in French.